Wool: inlaid work; silk: embroidery, chain stitch
Overall: 194.9 x 132.7 cm (76 3/4 x 52 1/4 in.)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Wade 1916.1297
Generally, Rasht work was made by men. Boys handled the delicate embroidering while older men designed cartoons and punched the wool designs.
Elaborate arched panels with multiple borders similar to this textile formed the mosaic-like interior walls of imperial tents. Here, the field is dominated by a richly decorated cypress tree above peacocks and dragon heads on an ornate foliate ground. We look upon the gardenscape through a niche (mihrab) formed by this foliage. Bright white silk “pearl” outlines, vines, and ringlets in chain-stitch embroidery enliven the pattern on contrasting colors of fulled wool. Internationally fashionable botehs, or paisleys, decorate the outer red borders.This technique has been referred to by many different names including: Rasht work, Resht work, Rashti-duzi, Rachti-douzi, embroidery applique, mosaic embroidery, piecework, patchwork, embroidery brocade, and inlaid patchwork. Many of these terms are to various degrees inaccurate descriptions of this technique. Perhaps the most practical term is Rasht work, named for the town in Iran where the technique was popularized. It begins as a ground of felted plain weave wool. Desired shapes are then punched out of the ground with a metal die and hammer. The same is done with wool of an alternating color. The edges of the different cut pieces are then embroidered together into various designs using a silk chain stitch (golab-duzi). Although this piecework technique was recorded in Iran in the 1670s, most examples survive from the 19th century, when foreigners praised them as “really [the] most beautiful embroidery.” The technique appears in furnishing fabrics, and horse covers, as well as imperial portraits, including one depicting the Qajar monarch Fath ‘Ali Shah, who ruled in 1797–1837. Sometime after leaving the workshop this panel experienced moth damage; small patches can be seen throughout.
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